Yesterday, I got into a fight.
I am not a fan of conflict, particularly of the online variety. It’s too easy to misunderstand tone, to dash off thoughts that aren’t fully-formed, to get caught up in the heat of battle. And honestly, I don’t think anyone’s mind has ever been changed due to a flame war. However, when I found myself reading yet another social media post by someone who has been crafting a particularly distorted narrative against a good friend for going on 15 years, I decided enough was enough.
The details of the incident, which center around a longstanding family situation my friend is embroiled in, are not important. What is important is everything surrounding it. During the actual exchange of words, numerous friends and relations of the person I was calling out flocked in, offering protection and questioning who I was to say such things. Afterwards, the exchange was scrubbed, I was blocked from commenting, and the person recrafted the original narrative with selective and altered quotes to appear to be a victim of unfounded slander.
This was not unexpected. I have witnessed this person’s behavior for decades. I knew full well what the response to my criticism would be—a circling of the wagons to reinforce the façade of innocence that has been built up carefully, one fabrication at a time, over the course of a lifetime. My friend, long the target of this behavior, said, “It’s the same thing all over again. Nothing will ever change.”
I understand his feeling of defeat. It’s how I’ve felt for most of the four years since the Great Orange Toddler once again failed upwards and began his reign of mediocrity. Over and over again, I’ve groused that nothing ever happens to people like him or those who enable him, that there is never accountability, that they are immune to repercussions because even when you drag their reprehensible behavior out into the clear light of day, far too many people refuse to acknowledge it. We’ve repeatedly seen the narrative reworked to prevent terrible people from getting the comeuppance they deserve, to turn losing into winning.
My final words to the subject of my personal wrath were these: “A lot of us see you. A lot of us know the truth. You can fool your friends. You can even fool yourself. But hear this—you are seen.”
My fantasy, of course, was that people would read my comments and begin to question whether or not the narrative they’d been fed was in fact accurate. Mostly, this did not happen. In fact, apart from the individual’s immediate family, everyone else who subsequently commented pretended that our exchange wasn’t even happening. Again, I was reminded of so many political discussions that have taken place in recent years; I was screaming into a vacuum.
Still, I think I accomplished something. I believe defending my friend was the right and moral thing to do. Time after time during the recent impeachment hearings, I heard people on both sides of the argument state that it was a “waste of time,” some because they don’t believe the president did anything wrong and others because they say we all should have known from the start that he would be acquitted and that it would make those who brought him to trial look foolish.
As I responded to one of those latter people, of course we knew. We always knew. But sometimes you do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing. Isn’t that the entire point of America’s favorite novel, To Kill a Mockingbird? Isn’t this what Atticus means when he says to Jem, “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”?
It is never the wrong thing to call out people for their bad behavior. It is never the wrong thing to state the truth in the face of lies. It is never the wrong thing to take on a battle against corruption, even when it feels (and may in fact be) unwinnable. Because even if there’s no immediate win, no visible acknowledgment of the truth, letting badly-behaved people know that even one person sees them forms a crack in their veneer, a crack that widens bit by bit, eating away at them until they crumble into dust. ▼
Michael Thomas Ford is a much-published Lambda Literary award-winning author.